‘Brought by the Sea’ a disappointing take on the plight of refugees

‘Brought by the Sea’ a disappointing take on the plight of refugees

April 22, 2010, Thursday/ 17:14:00
Veteran Turkish filmmaker Nesli Çölgeçen’s “Denizden Gelen” (Brought by the Sea), which ran in both the national feature and human rights in cinema competitions at this year’s İstanbul International Film Festival, is a film which aims to say a lot.While achieving some of its ambitions, specifically those of the political and worldly context, “Brought by the Sea” unfortunately disappoints on some very crucial emotional points.

Shot in the beautiful coastal town of Dalyan in southwest Turkey, the story starts with the forlorn face of a young man -- Halil (Onur Saylak of Özcan Alper’s “Autumn” fame). Halil the policeman sits in court, but on this occasion it is he who is on trial for the murder of an illegal immigrant trying to cross from Dalyan to the Greek islands. Halil might be deemed innocent, but his conscience will not let go of him, and thus he quits the police force and retreats to his father’s friends’ fishing boat.

There won’t be much time for Halil to abandon himself to the inner guilt he feels for the past, since one day as he is lazing on the beach he finds the comatose body of a 5-year-old boy from Ghana. This is Jordan (Jordan Deniz Boyner), only one of the thousands of immigrants who try to cross illegally from the Mediterranean coast with dinghies destined to sink. Jordan is the sole survivor of this particular group. Having lost his mother to the accident, his future remains ever more uncertain.

Halil immediately takes Jordan to the hospital and is helped by a nurse, Yaren (Ahu Türkpençe), who takes a particular liking to the child and also Halil -- despite their initial tensions. Halil regularly visits Jordan at the hospital, and slowly but surely he feels a certain compassion for Jordan and perhaps believes that this boy will be his salvation. Once healed, Jordan is taken to a facility by the local cops, a place where countless illegal immigrants caught on the path to Greece are detained. Jordan, once realizing that his mother is dead, asks for his lost father. Though Halil tries to get hold of the father, he realizes early on that the man will never be able to retrieve the boy.

It isn’t long before Jordan escapes from the detention center with the help of Yaren, who later takes him to Halil. As Jordan takes refuge in Halil’s humble abode, their relationship grows ever closer and Halil comes to love the child as if his own. We slowly understand that there is nothing that he will not do for Jordan, including smuggling him out of the country and taking him to his father. Of course, as all things go, there will be a dear price to pay when another horrifying boat trip is called for.

It is a fact that it is indeed incredibly difficult to direct child actors, and keeping in mind that this is the first acting experience of the young Deniz Boyner, the boy comes off as remarkably loveable. However he cannot act for a dime, and thus at some points of the film, we cannot bring ourselves to feel for the young Jordan’s plight. Once Jordan finds out that his mother passed away in the boat accident, it looks like the boy just lost his favorite ball instead of losing his mother. Such key emotional moments, which should be the strongest points in the film, become the weakest.

Another such flawed scene includes the first boat trip that Jordan takes with his mother. All looks well and good, until suddenly, cut -- and Jordan’s floating body is found by Halil. There is no cinematic implication of how these illegal boat trips can be so dangerous and how the lives of many refugees have been lost in vain to the profiteering smugglers who already know that the boats will sink in the middle of the sea. At least it would have been nice to experience some kind of menace and looming danger in the atmosphere as we watch the refugees in the middle of the water.

Saylak, who was incredibly nuanced and successful in Alper’s “Sonbahar,” tries to achieve the same caliber in this film, and occasionally does. However, Çölgeçen’s direction does not give room to breathe for most of the actors.

Furthermore, the editing is so carelessly put together that it becomes difficult to establish an emotional rapport with the characters outside of the narrative context.

The screenplay, written by Ersin Kana, has some great dialogue and suggests some powerful emotional apexes, yet the cinematography and the general lack of rhythm in the film transform it into something almost boring and lackluster.

“Denizden Gelen” indeed underlines the dire situation of the thousands of refugees that try to cross the borders of Turkey and Greece. If only our hearts were also with the film as well, instead of just our intellect.

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